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EU efforts for bee health

Bee health depends on many factors. This is why EU actions cover several policy areas including:

  • beekeeping and agriculture

  • environment, research

  • pesticides

  • veterinary issues

  • surveillance measures

Beekeeping and agriculture

The apiculture sector is an important part of the EU agriculture. There are around 630.000 beekeepers and 16 millions of hives in the EU, producing 234.000 tons of honey per year. For several years now, the EU has been providing support to the beekeeping sector through national apiculture programmes and rural development measures. These apiculture measures were evaluated in 2013. Sustainable agriculture taking into account environment can also influence bee health and improve biodiversity.

Environment, research

Many insect pollinator populations are in decline. This can be caused by changing environmental conditions such as habitat loss, climate change, invasive species and pesticide use. To get a better picture of the situation, the European Commission has initiated a 'red list of threatened pollinators', which will be published by the end of 2014. Red lists of endangered species identify species that are threatened with extinction at the European level – so that appropriate conservation action can be taken. Moreover, The Life (the Financial Instrument for the Environment) can be used for benefits of wild bees.

The existing data is not sufficient to clearly understand reasons of the pollinator populations decline. This is why EU has been supporting various research projects on bee health, including research project on pollinators.

Pesticides

Plant protection products, especially insecticides, can be toxic to bees. Existing legislation on plant protection products clearly mentions that active substances used in these products can only be approved if they are safe for bees.

Following recent studies indicating acute risks of certain insecticides (3 neonicotinoids and fipronil) for bees, the European Commission restricted significantly their use. Commission has also taken steps to improve plant protection products authorisation process:

  • requested the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to completely review the risk assessment scheme and methodology for effects of plant protection products on bees;

  • defined new data requirements to assess potential effects on bees.

Veterinary issues

In order to support actions on bee health, European Commission designated an EU Reference Laboratory for bee health which is operational since 1 April 2011. Its main tasks include:

  • coordinating methods employed in the Member States for diagnosing and monitoring of the relevant bee diseases;

  • trainings for experts in laboratory diagnosis, workshops for national reference laboratories;

  • providing technical assistance to the Commission;

  • establishing and coordinating a survey on honeybee colony losses in the EU with regard to establishing a baseline for ‘normal’ seasonal mortality of bees.

The European Commission has been running bee health training for competent authorities of Member States, from 2010-2011, in 2012-2013 and again from 2014 onwards.

Surveillance measures

In order to identify the scale of bee mortalities and their possible causes, in 2008, following a request from the European Commission, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) requested information from Member States on their surveillance programmes, estimates of their bee populations for 2006-2007, and literature relating to colony collapse, weakening or mortality of bees. The information received has been collated in the report "Bee Mortality and Bee Surveillance in Europe". Based on this information, EFSA launched a pan-European research project on bee decline under the same title: "Bee mortality and bee surveillance in Europe". The final report of the project highlights the need for better harmonised surveillance on bee mortality in the EU.

The European Reference laboratory for bee health provides the latest scientific information on the technical aspects of this surveillance. Its document "Basis for a pilot surveillance project on honey bee colony lossespdf Choose translations of the previous link " gives guidance to EU countries that will implement the surveillance studies.

The Commission is supporting both with technical assistance and co-financing the Member States who participate voluntarily in the surveillance studies on honeybee colony losses. Their purpose is to improve surveillance methodology, to obtain reliable (i.e. collected or verified by officials of the competent authorities) data on the extent of the colony mortality and on prevalence of the most important pathogens in the visited apiaries.

Timeline of main EU actions for bee health

  • 2014 - Conference for Better Bee Health

  • 2013 - Commission continues  co-financing voluntary surveillance studies on honey bee losses.

  • 2013 - EU takes additional measures on fipronil to better protect Europe’s bees. A Commission proposal to restrict the use of fipronil, an insecticide which has recently been identified as posing an acute risk to Europe’s honey bee population, was backed by Member State experts meeting on 16 July 2013.

  • 2013 - Bumble bee study does not affect neonicotinoid conclusions, concludes European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In its statement EFSA has pointed out several weaknesses in a study published by the UK Food and Environment Research Agency, which suggested that neonicotinoid pesticides do not have a major effect on bumble bee colonies under field conditions.

  • 2013 - European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessed the risk to bees from fipronil when used as seed treatment for maize. Results are included in the EFSA’s study.

  • 2013 - Commission restricted use of 3 neonicotinoids as of 1 December 2013.

  • 2013 - European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) identifies risks to bees from three neonicotinoid  insecticides, presented in the study.

  • 2012 - Commission earmarks €3.3 million for surveillance studies on honey bee colony losses to support 17 Member States in carrying out surveillance studies aiming to gather further important information on honey bee colony losses.

    Press release on the surveillance studies

  • 2011 - Commission designates an EU Reference Laboratory for bee health by Regulation (EU) No 87/2011pdf. Following some changes, in the interest of clarity and simplification of EU legislation, Regulation (EU) No 87/2011 was repealed by Regulation (EU) No 415/2013.

  • 2010 - Commission steps up efforts to tackle bee mortality by adopting Communicationpdf Choose translations of the previous link  on actions to better understand reasons behind bee mortality (Questions and Answers Choose translations of the previous link ).